The Patent and Trademark Office has issued a new patent to Coca-Cola Co. for developing its soda bottles with a combination of virgin and recycled plastics.
But the patent is no indication the Atlanta soft drink giant soon will make the plastic soda bottles it sells in U.S. markets with anything other than virgin materials.
Rather, the patent is part of an ongoing research effort to test the structure of the company's packaging, Coke spokeswoman Carol Martel said.
``This is another in a long line of those kinds of technologies that suppliers and inventors have brought to our attention,'' she said.
Coke's new patent, in part, is designed to improve the quality of soda bottles made out of recycled PET, patent documents said.
Recycled PET is less durable than its virgin counterpart and more likely to crack. Most cracks occur on the bottom of the bottle, an area that sees more wear and tear, patent documents said.
Coke's patent incorporates recycled PET into a three-layer preform with virgin plastic to strengthen the bottle's bottom.
Virgin PET makes up the inner and outer layers of the bottle. Coke makes the central layer out of recovered PET, preventing the consumer from touching the recycled material, patent documents said.
Despite Coke's research, environmental groups such as GrassRoots Recycling Network continue to chide the soft drink maker for allegedly breaking a pledge it made in 1990 to include recycled plastics in its bottles.
Coke test-marketed a bottle it manufactured from recycled plastics in Charlotte, N.C., said Bill Sheehan, GRRN network coordinator. The company planned to expand the container to markets in the Southeast and Midwest, but Coke's effort fizzled when public interest in recycling appeared to wane a few years ago, GRRN said.
``They've obviously been looking at it and are continuing to stay in the loop,'' said Pat Franklin, executive director of the Container Recycling Institute. ``But you have to wonder why they're waiting to use the technology.''